Binge eating disorder is an illness which resembles bulimia nervosa. Like bulimics, binge eaters have episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing. However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because its sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food.
Individuals with binge eating disorders feel that they lose control of themselves when eating. They eat large quantities of food and do not stop until they are uncomfortably full. Usually, they have more difficulty losing weight and keeping it off than do people with other serious weight problems. Most people with the disorder are obese and have a history of weight fluctuations.
Who suffers from binge eating disorders?
Although it has only recently been recognized as a distinct condition, binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. Most people with binge eating disorder are obese (more than 20 percent above a healthy body weight), but normal-weight people also can be affected. Binge eating disorder probably affects 2 percent of all adults, or about 1 million to 2 million Americans. Among adolescent and young adult women of America, as much as 4 percent suffer from binge-eating disorder. Recent research shows about 30 percent of people participating in medically supervised eating disorder programs suffer from binge eating.
Binge eating disorder is more common in women, with three women affected for every two men. The disorder affects blacks as often as whites; its frequency in other ethnic groups is not yet known. Obese people with binge eating disorder often became overweight at a younger age than those without the disorder. They also may have more frequent episodes of losing and regaining weight (yo-yo dieting).
What causes binge eating disorder?
The causes of binge eating disorder are still unknown. Up to half of all people with binge eating disorder have a history of depression. Still, whether depression is a cause or effect of binge eating is unclear. Many people report that anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety or other negative emotions can trigger a binge episode. Impulsive behavior and certain other psychological problems may be more common in people with binge eating disorder. The effect of dieting on binge eating disorder is also unclear. While findings vary, early research suggests that about half of all people with binge eating disorder had binge episodes before they started to diet. Still, strict dieting may worsen binge eating in some people.
How is binge eating treated?
Several studies have found that people with binge eating disorder may find it harder than other people to stay in weight loss treatment. Binge eaters also may be more likely to regain weight quickly. For these reasons, people with the disorder may require treatment that focuses on their binge eating before they try to lose weight. Even those who are not overweight are frequently distressed by their binge eating, and may benefit from treatment.
Several methods are being used to treat binge eating disorder. Like all eating disorders, binge eating should be treated on both a physical and psychological level. Physicians and nutritionists can help monitor weight gain/loss. Therapy can help modify behavior and attitude. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients techniques to monitor and change their eating habits as well as to change the way they respond to difficult situations. Interpersonal psychotherapy helps people examine their relationships with friends and family and to make changes in problem areas. Treatment with medications such as antidepressants may be helpful for some individuals. Self-help groups also may be a source of support. Researchers are still trying to determine which method or combination of methods is the most effective in controlling binge eating disorder. The type of treatment that is best for an individual is a matter for discussion between the patient and her health care provider.